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Bilingualism – Different goals for different Families

At Deutsches Haus at NYU, we offer classes for bilingual children, and we only ask that the child speaks German daily with a family member, caretaker etc.

While the classes are held in German, the proficiency of the students can be vastly different. Some children can understand and participate without speaking German, while others communicate and read and write in German.

Their families have different reasons to choose raising children with two languages, and even the term “bilingual” can have different meanings for different families. For some, having the ability to listen in two languages but speak in just one may constitute bilingualism, while other parents expect their children not only to speak, but also be literate in both languages. Depending on those definitions, parents put more or less importance and effort into their child’s bilingual development.

Often, parents set the goal of the highest proficiency, but are not planning how this will actually happen and are disappointed with the result.

Each family is different, and it is important to find out their personal motivation and goals, in order to plan the language exposure that is needed to reach them.

If you are thinking about bringing up your child bilingually, it’s a good idea to clarify your own definition of bilingualism. Language proficiency can be evaluated in terms of listening, speaking, reading and writing, and how a person is able to use both languages for reasoning and describing emotions.

When setting the goals for your child’s bilingualism, you decide which of the following skills are important to you:

1.  Understanding both languages but speaking only one of them.

2.  Understanding and participation in the minority language when talking about everyday   topics.

3.  Oral fluency in both languages.

4.  Sufficient fluency in both languages to attend school in either.

Generally, the higher the level, the more effort parents need to provide enough language exposure in both languages.

Experts say that a child needs to be exposed to a language for a minimum of 30% of time in order to start and continue using the language actively. This comes to roughly 25 hours a week, depending on your child’s age. This might be relatively easy when children are small, but as they grow they spend more time outside the family – often in the majority language.

Because that happens often around the age of three, parents often start sending their children to our bilingual pre-k classes at Deutsches Haus at NYU, to provide a weekly activity in German that happens outside of the family.



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